Garden landscaping ideas to ensure you plan the perfect garden

Create your dream outdoor space with planting, planning and buildings ideas

Designing - or redesigning - your outdoor space can be a fun and creative process, but can also be overwhelming. Make things that bit easier by firstly exploring your garden landscaping possibilities.

When planning what garden ideas you wish to explore, you'll find that garden landscaping is at the heart of most - of not all - of them. By understanding the best ways to approach this, the less fuss you'll have in creating your dream space.

In order to understand how to landscape a garden, we have to understand what it actually means. 'Landscape design is just the outdoors version of interior design -albeit with rather different materials,' says Tabi Jackson Gee, founder, TJG Gardens (opens in new tab).  'The actual landscaping bit itself refers to any changes you're making to your outdoor space – from creating new plant beds to building walls or terraces.'

 'Both the hard landscaping and the soft landscaping (plants) need to be designed carefully to be functional and beautiful, and with budget, site and future uses all taken into consideration,' continues Tabi. 'Designers then work with landscaping contractors to make these ideas a reality. There's so much that goes into the process which people don't see - choosing the right materials, the right finishes, the right lighting and so all is all a skill that adds up to a beautiful garden.'

 'Most good designers can do both - you need an incredible amount of knowledge not just of plants but of materials, building practices, costs, supply chains - and it's this knowledge which allows a designer to help a client get the most from their garden.'

Garden landscaping ideas

Do you wish you had somewhere to sit, relax, entertain or let the children play? Maybe you are just a little bored and want a garden design that is more colourful, varied or maintenance friendly.

Garden landscaping is the ideal way to craft an attractive space to grow plants that give you a beautiful environment and design a practical layout that allows you to use your garden how you want. Take a look at some of our favourite ways to get that garden into shape this summer...

1. Plant at varying levels

garden with tiled areas and pot filled with plants

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Keep things interesting no matter where your eye is directed by experimenting with different planting. Think in-ground flower beds cut into grass or tiled areas, pots filled with plants, climbers up walls and taller trees. This form of garden landscaping is also useful is helping to zone your space as you can use plants to create different areas.

2. Mix materials

garden with plants and gravel

(Image credit: Future PLC/James French)

Even the most supposedly simple elements of garden landscaping can be used to create interest. Cheap DIY garden path ideas, for example, can be much more dynamic than you might think. Allow one path material - such as wood, to seem to organically transition into another, such as stones or gravel.

3. Work with different levels

garden with outdoor dining space and brick wall house

(Image credit: Future PLC/James French)

While you can of course use garden landscaping to level out your space, it's sometimes just as interesting to work with what you have. If your house is higher than your garden then you've got a perfect spot for decking ideas or an outdoor dining space. It can seem jarring to have a large gap between the hard landscaping and the lawn below. Soften this by creating full and dynamic beds for year round colour and depth.

4. Add in raised beds

garden with raised beds and lamp

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Raised beds can benefit just about any outdoor space. From a practical, gardening point of view, you're making things easier on yourself as everything is self-contained. Also, it's easier to collect cut flowers or herbs. Additionally, you have a better view of your planting, meaning your hard work will be on display for all to see.

5. Incorporate in-built seating

garden with seating area and basket

(Image credit: Future PLC/Claire Lloyd-Davies)

When landscaping your garden, really consider your needs. If you love to entertain, then make sure you build in seating to your walls or raised beds. It's cheaper than doing it later on, and you won't have to worry about how to choose outdoor furniture. If you're short on space, create versions which have integrated, waterproof storage to tuck away your outdoor cushions and seat pads.

6. Raise pathways

garden with pathway and trees

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Beds aren't the only element which can be raised to create interest. Choose a pathway that sits a good couple of inches above the ground. It will appear to float, and the surrounding plants at ground-level will appear larger than they actually are by tricking the eye.

7. Go large to make a statement

garden with plants and multi stem birch trees

(Image credit: Butter Wakefield Garden Design/The Society of Garden Designer)

Play with scale to create impact with small garden ideas.  Use oversize containers filled with a glorious mix of trees, shrubs and perennials to create an impressive oasis. Make the plants work extra hard by choosing those which are known for attracting wildlife.

'Include multi-stem birch trees underplanted with evergreen Ferns and spring flowering Crocus,' says Butter Wakefield (opens in new tab). 'Beech balls with Erigeron daisies and Muehlenbeckia and shrubs and perennials including Syringa microphyllia ‘Red Pixie’. Euphorbia schillingii, Geranium pyrcenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’ & Cirsium rivulare ‘Blue Wonder’.'

8. Soften a sloping garden with grass steps

sloping garden with grass steps and trees

(Image credit: Helen Elks-Smith MSGD/The Society of Garden Designers)

If your garden is on different levels but you're not keen on hard landscaping, you still have solutions. Instead of incorporating stone steps, opt for grass treads, integrating them into the existing lawn to connect the lower area to that above.

This is a lovely way to achieve a softer, more organic feel to your garden.

9. Pave the way

lawn with chairs

(Image credit: Future PLC/Claire Lloyd Davies)

The trend for creating garden zones is hugely popular, meaning the need for having a garden path is great. A link that unites the different areas is not only highly practical, it can also be visually appealing as this example demonstrates.

Without a pathway you'll soon find that you tread an unsightly channel into the lawn – which will ruin all your hard work with the overall garden aesthetic.

10. Favour environmental choices

garden with plants and table and chair

(Image credit: Sue Townsend/The Society of Garden Designers)

If you're concerned about the environmental impact of your garden and looking for ways to make it more sustainable, you're in luck. You can create an oasis that can benefit the planet which still bursts with texture and visual interest.

'Uses a rich palette of drought-tolerant planting including native seaside plants, grasses and Mediterranean shrubs surrounded by a stone mulch in different sizes and set amongst paving of locally reclaimed York Stone,' suggest The Society of Garden Designers (opens in new tab).

'Try plants like verbena bonariensis, eryngiums, euphorbias, lavender, achillea, ballota, miscanthus nepalensis, pennisetum, verbena and thymus. Make sure you use permeable surfaces to allow water to be released naturally into the ground.'

11. Plant for privacy

garden with privacy and willow trees

(Image credit: Future PLC/Lizzie Orme)

Planting works hard in our gardens to satisfy all our senses. In addition to everything else they aid with, clever planting can be used to create privacy from neighbours, your own house, or both. Laurel hedging is a great choice, but you can also play with willow trees or climbing plants up garden trellis ideas.

12. Create a flowering roof

colourful roof garden

(Image credit: Stuart Craine MSGD/The Society of Garden Designers)

Green roofs, living roofs, vegetated roofs, — whatever you call them, planted roofs are sprouting up everywhere! The growing new trend can be home to an array of plants from grasses to flowers, as well as being the perfect way to bring biodiversity into your garden.

'Create a stunning sedum roof in pastel powdery pinks to add a softness to the surrounding garden' suggest The Society Of Garden Designers. 'You can create a green roof on any flat surface or unsightly roof - from bin stores to bike sheds, and if you're not sure what to plant simply lay a ready-seeded wildflower turf.'

13. Hard landscape dedicated levels

landscaping sloping garden with relaxing lounging zone

(Image credit: Future PLC/Mark Bolton)

Use hard landscaping to make a feature of a sloping garden, allowing the incline to create dedicated, defined levels for different zones.

Allow the zones to take on very different purposes – from a dining area to a relaxing lounging zone that makes the most of garden shade ideas.

14. Stick to a simple scheme

lawn with plants and table and chair

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

'Simple, elegant detailing is often the key to a successful space,' says garden designer Robert Myers (opens in new tab). 'People often over-complicate design by putting too many ideas and patterns into a small space, making it look busy and fussy.'

15. Go hard on the detail

garden lawn with bench and brick wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Annaick Guitteny)

There’s no shortage of hard landscaping styles, from rustic to sleek and modern. In general, hard landscaping tends to be the star of contemporary designs, and the range of materials for such spaces is more extensive – mirror, metal, concrete and painted walls, to name a few – but there is nothing to stop you using these in traditional herbaceous gardens. The trick is to create a single, homogenous design.

16. Change the shape

curved garden with plants and glass door

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Create more space by breaking free of a symmetrical layout. It's easy to think in straight lines when it comes to garden landscaping, especially when it comes to the flooring. Adding curved lines and elongated sections can help to soften the transition from hard landscaping to planting or lawn.

Think about reshaping the lawn to allow for a sweeping shaped decking to give the landscape an interesting shape, or going for completely grassless garden ideas.

How do I start my garden design?

Landscaping ideas start with good research. Take inspiration by visiting garden centres, public gardens, annual garden shows, even other people's houses to get a feel of what is to your taste. Take into account your garden size and think about what you need your garden to do for you. Then, take to the drawing board to sketch your ideas and make mood boards from magazines and Pinterest (opens in new tab) of your dream garden landscape.

Elements to consider when first planning garden landscaping ideas

Walls and boundaries
Hedges and fences
Paths and patios
Lawns
Water features
Zoning areas (dining, playing, shading)
Planting: trees, shrubs, pots
Lighting Out-buildings

Next consider your plot. Look at the size and shape and take into consideration the direction if faces, the style of your house it will be framing and the surrounding area. Achieving balance is a strong aspect of good garden design; pay equal attention to all areas and remember that plants and shrubs will change size and shape throughout the seasons.

Do you prefer formal or informal gardens? Formal gardens tend to be tidy and geometric with lots of straight lines and clipped hedges, whereas informal gardens are made up of organic curves and planting is much more relaxed.

What landscaping materials will my garden need?

Select your materials with care and check the quantity and condition upon delivery.

Common landscaping materials are:

  • Bricks
  • Timber and decking
  • Paving and block paving
  • Aggregates and sand (check that the chemicals included are suitable for horticultural use)
  • Concrete, mortar and render
  • Damp proof membrane and landscaping fabric
  • Exterior paints and finishes

You’ll need to consider waste removal. There are two common methods; skip hire or muck away. Consult your local council and waste removal companies to find the most appropriate method or if hiring a professional to carry out your project talk to your contractor to establish whether clearance is included in their service.

Every construction project involves a fair degree of upheaval, so plan meticulously to smooth the way.

How do I keep the neighbours onside?

Inform neighbours every step of the way and double-check boundaries when erecting fencing and walls. Where dividing lines are shared, you must get their permission in writing.

How to I get rid of hard landscaping waste?

If you do not have access, ask neighbours or approach the local council if the area is public. Hire a skip for large amounts of soil, rubble and plants; expect to pay around £50-£200. You need a licence to put a skip on a public road; apply for this at your local council. Your landscaper can organise this for you; ask to see the permit. A landscaper will need to pay to use a commercial tip. If you tackle the project yourself, contact your local residential tip to see what it will take. Find out more at direct.gov.uk.

At this stage you should have realised whether your landscaping ideas will be a hands-on DIY job or a complete overhaul that will need the skills and labour of a professional landscape designer or tradesman that can do the work for you.

How do I landscape a garden the DIY route?

If you are tackling the job yourself, there are plenty of books, online guides or even short construction courses to help you get started. Most building materials (mentioned above) are easy to obtain from garden centres and builders merchants. Don't overlook access points to your garden if materials are to be delivered and stored.

Also look into machinery hire – you may need a cement mixer or even a digger to prepare the ground. Off-the-peg materials such as bricks, blocks, slabs, timber are rectilinear and so are more straightforward and cost effective when building along straight lines. If your design is curved, use more flexible materials such as gravel, poured concrete or drystone techniques.

Do I need planning permissions?

Planning restricts differ widely from one area to another. The answer is usually yes if you intend to build walls over 1m by a road and 2m elsewhere, or lay impermeable paving as part of your front garden ideas. For listed buildings and in conservation areas, you may need permission to remove and install hard landscaping.

For everyone else, outbuildings of up to 2.5m high are permitted beside the house, and those of 4m and taller need to be 2m away from the house. Decking and outbuildings must not take up more than 50 per cent of the garden.

Consult the planning department of your local council before going ahead, especially if you live near a Conservation Area. If planning permission is necessary your Planning Department will require an application  together with fairly detailed plans and a fee. Find out more at www.gov.uk (opens in new tab).

How long will my garden landscaping take?

This depends on the type of project. If you have the budget and are employing the professionals, they will give you a detailed time-frame and work-plan in their quote.

Working in stages can help with the cash-flow. Hard-landscaping should be completed first, if possible during winter months so the garden is ready for planting in the spring. Do not build walls or patio's below 3 degrees as frost can weaken new concrete and mortar.

Which plants should I choose?

One of the simplest ways to transform your outdoor space, be it an urban garden or country garden is to invest in a scheme based around your plants. A good selection of flowers, trees and shrubs will create year round interest. Spend some time getting to know your soil and aspect in terms of sun, shade and exposure.

For structure invest in larger hedging and trees. For colour spend money on bedding plants and bulbs. Further research in books, garden centres and online will throw up so many planting suggestions. Potted flowers and plants are a great option for adding easy colour and the movability means you can change your design when the mood takes you. Be sure to plant them with plenty of drainage and water regularly.

The late, great garden designer Rosemary Verey once famously said, 'True gardening is as much about the bones of a garden as it's planting.' Indeed, few outdoor schemes are complete without some form of hard landscaping. The materials used – from paving and aggregates to decking and decorative edging – will add texture, character and structure, leading the eye through the landscape.

While the best time to redesign your space is in winter when plants are dormant, looking at it in summer gives you the chance to really understand how you use the space. Or if you just want to add new surfaces, you can do so now and reap the rewards this summer.

Jennifer Ebert